Lanvin Is Honored With a Gorgeous Exhibition at Paris’s Palais Galliera
As you enter Jeanne Lanvin’s dim, magical world, leaving behind the bright hall of Paris’s Palais Galliera, you are greeted by the late French designer’s hands—photographed in 1937 by Francois Kollar.
In 1880, Lanvin started working as an apprentice milliner—she was called little bus, a nickname she gained from running behind the bus on her deliveries, to save the ticket price. She then used those work-worn hands to go on to create the longest-surviving couture house in France.
Lanvin opened her first hat boutique in 1885, before moving in 1893 to a location on the famous Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, still home today to the Lanvin fashion house. After the birth of her daughter, Marguerite, the designer felt inspired to start her first clothing line—for children. She then went on to develop womenswear, followed by bridal, lingerie, and furs. Eventually she included interior decoration, sportswear, and fashion for men.
Examples of her work for women are on view in Jeanne Lanvin, the first Paris retrospective dedicated to Lanvin’s work. Curated by Olivier Saillard, director of the Palais Galliera, in collaboration with current Lanvin artistic director Alber Elbaz, the exhibition assembles about 100 pieces from the 1900s to the 1940s, as well as black-and-white photographs and sketches.
In rooms with frescoed high ceilings and walls painted in brick red, tall glass vitrines house mannequins wearing Lanvin’s creations. There are also large mirrored cases conceived by Elbaz, in which dresses lay like the pages of a book. “Set against streams of mirrors, they speak silently of the life-path of the couturiere,” explains an inscription on the wall.
The first room is filled with black-and-white dresses, many of which look so modern and timeless they could have been on the runway this week in Paris. Later, visitors encounter a dress with a bouffant skirt called the Robe de Style, a look that helped make Lanvin famous. Inspired by the 18th century and the Second Empire, one version here is the Colombine, an ivory silk taffeta dress with a red velvet ribbon and large black dots.
Next door, exceptional embroideries decorate dresses, evening bags, collars, and even a bathing suit. In black velvet with Swarovski crystals, it was worn for an evening around a swimming pool. In the center of this room is an elaborate dress in gold lamé with pearls and glass tubes that was presented in 1925 at the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts. Gowns inspired by China, Turkey, and Japan, but also by ecclesiastical garments, medievalism and geometry fill the rest of the room.
Lanvin’s wedding dresses pop up near the end of the exhibit, followed by ample, lavishly adorned evening gowns. “Paris was rarely more sparkling” than when Lanvin was at work, Christian Dior once recalled.
“I think we have managed to create an exhibition around the dream of fashion,” Elbaz said. “What I am hoping for is to hear the visitors say, ‘I love Jeanne Lanvin.’”